The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has made a big splash on social media with their witty captions and funny remarks to followers, but a video they posted August 2 was met with extra enthusiasm from the water-loving crowd. In it, a large machine that can best be described as an aquatic forklift putts around a small pond, scooping up algae and weeds that have collected along the water’s edge and dumping them on the bank.
There’s something oddly satisfying about watching the teeth on the front of the machine lift the vegetation out of the water. What makes it more satisfying is the impact the project will have on the pond’s aquatic life, as well as every angler’s chance of avoiding a snag, ODWC says.
“This equipment is used to clear aquatic vegetation around fishing locations, opening up areas for anglers to easily cast in,” ODWC writes. “Removing weeds this way is better than spraying with chemicals this time of year, so decomposing plant material can’t cause low oxygen levels … Which can result in a potential fish kill.”
The machine’s manufacturer, Weedoo, calls it a “skid steer on water.” The model used in the video is just one of the company’s offerings, all of which are geared toward lake, pond, and wetland remediation. ODWC fisheries biologist Keith Thomas had been eyeing the product for years before the agency finally gave him the OK to drive to Florida and purchase one. As the man in charge of metro-Oklahoma City’s 20-something public fishing ponds, he welcomed the efficiency improvements the Weedoo offered.
“We’re managing these ponds the best we can, whether it’s stocking fish or clearing out weeds,” Thomas tells Outdoor Life. “We hold a lot of family fishing clinics and derbies at most of these ponds throughout the year to encourage people to get out and use them.”
In the video, the Weedoo is cleaning out what ODWC calls a “Close to Home” pond. The Close to Home program is ODWC’s version of an urban angling initiative that manages and stocks public ponds close to more populated areas of Oklahoma.
“Fishing license sales have been slowing down and flattening out nationally, depending on what part of the country you’re in,” Thomas says. He points out that most other states have some version of a similar program and Oklahoma’s certainly wasn’t the first. “We were trying to bump up our license sales and we saw the need and the want for some places to fish close to home instead of driving two or three hours with the family. So we started looking at these park ponds and other small bodies of water in the urban areas where people can fish.”
But when anglers tried to fish some of these ponds from the shore, weed snags were a big concern. Folks started complaining about the inconvenience. Thomas recalls trying to pull weeds by hand while wading around in the ponds, but such attempts felt futile. The agency turned to chemical control for a while, but officials ultimately wanted a cheaper solution with less potential for environmental impacts.
“We were getting tired and worried about using chemicals [to kill the weeds]. You can also hurt bugs and birds that are living close by,” he says. “We wanted a different way to clear out some of this aquatic vegetation and help anglers fish.”
Ultimately, the Weedoo came to the rescue. Thomas hopes the agency might buy another one or two for management at fish hatcheries and other bodies of water across the state. But in the meantime, he’ll keep using the one to clear lanes so kids can catch stocker bluegills and channel cats.
“Most of these ponds are targeting families with kids,” Thomas says. “We want them to have a good experience when they go to these places, we don’t want them to just keep dragging in ‘seaweed.'”